NEW YORK ( Associated Press) – Revelers will continue to celebrate New Years in New York’s Times Square next week, there simply won’t be as many as usual due to new restrictions announced Thursday as the city struggles with a surge of COVID-19 cases.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press release announcing the changes that viewing areas, which typically accommodate around 58,000 people, will be limited to around 15,000 to allow more distance, and everyone present must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask.
“There are many reasons to celebrate, and these additional security measures will keep the fully vaccinated crowd safe and healthy ahead of the New Year,” de Blasio said, noting the city’s success in vaccinating residents while maintaining business.
Additional precautions on New Years Eve in Times Square have been prompted by the rapid proliferation of the omicron variant in the Big Apple, where testing lines have snaked around the neighborhoods in recent days.
On Tuesday, the city set a one-day record with 17,200 new cases, although an accurate comparison with the number of cases during the initial spike of COVID-19 in spring 2020 is not possible as tests were very limited at the time.
Due to vaccinations, the number of hospitalizations and deaths resulting from the current surge is much lower than at the height of the pandemic.
A new wave of business led to the cancellation of concerts, sporting events and Broadway shows, but de Blasio clearly chose to keep the annual Times Square Ball as planned – the last major event in his eight-year span. which ends on January 1st.
Just over a month ago, de Blasio gleefully announced that a fully vaccinated crowd of hundreds of thousands would return for the iconic celebration – donning silly 2022-themed glasses and watching a crystal ball fall at midnight. confined itself to small groups of key employees last year.
But that was before Omicron caught fire, forcing city officials and event planners to rethink how many people they wanted to squeeze into a vibrant billboard tourist paradise that some call the Crossroads of Peace.
On Tuesday, the Fox network issued a verdict by shutting down the scheduled live broadcast. from the New Year’s event. Other TV stations are planning to broadcast the celebrations, including Dick Clark’s “Rockin ‘Eve” New Years party on ABC, which is currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest.
De Blasio said along with Thursday’s announcement that the city is monitoring the COVID-19 situation and may take additional precautions if necessary. Among other changes announced Thursday, revelers will not be allowed into the observation decks until 3 p.m., much later than in years past.
On New Years Eve last year, Times Square was mostly empty. with Jennifer Lopez and other artists performing behind the police barricades. After vaccines became widely available in the United States, the city allowed crowds to return to the Fourth of July Macy’s fireworks, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and other events.
“New York is the best place in the world to celebrate New Years and will now be one of the safest for COVID,” Mayor-elect Eric Adams said in a written statement reaffirming the new precautions. “New Yorkers and city visitors can now enjoy Times Square and the rest of our city in the lead-up to 2022.”
Associated Press author Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.